Tonight starts the celebration of Shavuot, the festival in which the Jewish people rejoice the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. This year, as with many other things, our Shavuot may look a little more different than usual as we are focused on complying with social distancing rules (albeit slightly relaxed than previously).
Personally, Shavuot is one of my favourite festivals. Not just because it involves cheesecake and dairy products, but because of its overarching message of inclusion and acceptance.
During the festival we read the Megillah of the Book of Ruth. This Megillah tells the story of the conversion of Ruth, the Moabite princess, to Judaism. Upon her conversion Ruth was accepted by the Jewish people, so much so that she merited to have King David descend from her.
My favourite quote in the book of Ruth is when she commits her life to the Jewish people and says to her mother-in-law Naomi: ‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.’
With this single proclamation, Ruth commits herself to a Jewish life in which she immerses herself in the traditions, culture and religion of a people that had previously been persecuted and refused entry into her original ancestral home of Moab.
We can see that the story not only highlights the importance of accepting those with different background to us, but also shows that there is space for those with different life experiences to join our religion. This beautiful message remains poignant and relevant until this very day.
Coincidentally, this week (May 27-June 3) is also Reconciliation Week, which commemorates the 1967 Australian High Court judgement of Mabo which recognised the historical connection and link of Aboriginal Australians to the land and abrogated the legal principal of terra nullis (that the land was empty when the British arrived).
This momentous judgement allowed for a shift in Australian thinking and culture and began the long and still ongoing process of reconciliation. This important step in the right direction helped to cement the importance of recognising the traditional owners of this land, making space for them and to practice their important cultural practices.
As we enter into Shavuot, the message from both the Megillah of Ruth and Reconciliation Week is clear. Actively working to create an inclusive atmosphere for people of all backgrounds, cultures and faiths can ensure that we do not unnecessarily offend, harm or isolate people. Too many wrongs have been committed against the traditional owners of this land and we are living in a generation that can work to right these wrongs and recognise their trauma. As former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd put it ‘there comes a time in the history of nations, that in order to embrace fully their future, they must fully reconcile with their past’.
Finally, from a Jewish perspective, we can emulate the example taken in the Megillah and ensure that all who join our wonderful ARK community feel continually welcomed and included.
Enjoy the cheesecake!
Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom